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The Practical Progress Predicament of Hermeticism

This article delves into the complexities of practicing Hermeticism in the contemporary world, exploring the importance of progress and comparing it to more structured mystical systems.

In the realm of esoteric traditions, Hermeticism has long captivated curious minds seeking spiritual enlightenment and ancient wisdom. Rooted in ancient Egypt and Greece, Hermeticism offers a rich tapestry of mystical teachings and philosophical insights.

In our modern times, aspiring Hermetic practitioners often find themselves faced with a unique challenge: the absence of a practical system of progress. In contrast to more well-structured paths like Freemasonry or Sufism, Hermeticism lacks a clear roadmap for beginners to navigate their journey from novices to adept practitioners. This absence can lead to confusion, uncertainty, and a sense of aimlessness for those embarking on their Hermetic journey.

A challenge for beginners

Part of the difficulty lies in the diverse landscape of Hermetic practice. Hermeticism encompasses a wide array of concepts, techniques, and approaches, making it challenging for beginners to navigate and determine their path forward.

From ceremonial magic and alchemy to astrological studies and philosophical contemplation, the vastness of Hermeticism can overwhelm newcomers, often leaving them without a clear sense of where to begin or how to progress.

While the absence of a standardized system of progress can be discouraging, it also presents an opportunity for personal exploration and individualized approaches. Hermeticism encourages you to delve into your own experiences, to experiment, and to seek personal revelations.

This freedom can be liberating, allowing for a unique and deeply personal journey. However, it also requires discipline, discernment, and a commitment to self-reflection in order to progress effectively.

In the absence of a clearly defined progression, the role of guidance and community becomes paramount in the pursuit of Hermetic wisdom. Seeking out knowledgeable guides, engaging with like-minded individuals, and joining established Hermetic groups can provide invaluable support and direction.

The exchange of ideas, practical advice, and shared experiences can help you find your bearings and establish a sense of structure within the vastness of Hermeticism.

Freemasonry and Sufism as examples

Freemasonry, an ancient and widely practiced fraternity, offers a structured system of progress that serves as a guide for its members. Beginning as an apprentice, individuals embark on a journey of self-improvement and moral development. Through a series of degrees, Masons ascend through the ranks, gradually acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and practical skills.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, also presents a well-defined system of progress that guides seekers on a transformative spiritual journey. Sufis follow a disciplined path of spiritual purification, aiming to attain direct experiential knowledge of the Divine. This journey unfolds through various stages, allowing individuals to evolve from students to teachers in a systematic manner.

The journey from apprentice to master in Freemasonry and the systematic stages of development in Sufism offer milestones, guidance, and a sense of purpose to their practitioners.

The progressive journeys of both traditions can be used as examples of a possible progressive journey within Hermeticism:

Beginner: Learn the foundational principles, ethical teachings, the practice of prayer and, contemplation, and the importance of self-purification.
Intermediate: Delve deeper into the philosophical and intellectual aspects, cultivate virtues by putting them into real-world practice and start practicing alchemy, astrology, and/or theurgy if you are interested.
Advanced: Deepen your connection with the Divine and increase inner awareness.

Tests and Challenges

In many spiritual traditions, including various mystical paths, tests and challenges serve as crucial milestones for students to demonstrate their progress and readiness for advancement.

These tests often involve acts or practices that symbolize the relinquishment of attachments to worldly or material possessions, highlighting the aspirant’s commitment to spiritual growth and liberation.

These tests and challenges act as transformative rites of passage, fostering the growth and development of the student’s spiritual character. By willingly embracing these tests, students demonstrate their readiness to move beyond the limitations of the ego and cultivate qualities such as selflessness, detachment, and generosity.

Comparatively, Hermeticism’s lack of standardized tests or challenges may be viewed as an opportunity for you to self-impose such trials in your personal hermetic journey. If you are drawn to Hermeticism you can choose to incorporate symbolic tests or challenges within your own practice to signify your progress and commitment.

These self-imposed trials can serve as powerful markers of growth and transformation, providing a sense of purpose and direction on the path toward Hermetic wisdom.

Examples of possible progress and tests

  1. Knowledge Acquisition Levels: Create a structured system of knowledge acquisition by dividing the vast realm of Hermetic teachings into levels or stages. Each level can represent a specific area of study. As you progress, you can set goals for deepening your understanding and mastery of each level, actively seeking out resources, texts, and mentors to guide your learning. Our online course offers such a structured system to acquire more knowledge.
  2. Reflective Self-Assessment: Regularly engage in introspective practices to assess personal growth and development. These self-assessments can include journaling, meditation, or contemplative practices that allow you to reflect on your experiences, insights, and challenges encountered along your Hermetic journey. By examining your thoughts, actions, and spiritual experiences, you can identify areas for improvement, set new goals, and measure your progress.
  3. Service and Sharing: Incorporate acts of service and sharing as symbolic tests of detachment from material possessions and egoic identification. Engage in charitable activities or teaching roles to embody the principles of generosity, compassion, and (to support) the dissemination of hermetic knowledge.

Moral and ethical progression

There is nothing like a list of commandments or precepts in Hermeticism on how to live, which can make it difficult for modern people to turn the Way of Hermes into a practical way of life.

We can infer guidelines to practice, ethics, morality, behavior, and the like by looking at what the Hermetic texts say about particular behaviors and how they’re described in terms of their effects:

  • CH I.22 – 26 (Poimandrēs describes the difference between mindful and mindless people and the seven planetary energies)
  • CH XIII.7 – 9 (Hermēs describes the twelve irrational tormentors of matter and ten divine mercies that counteract/replace them)
  • CH IX.3 – 4 (Hermēs describes various daimonically-inspired acts and what the seeds of divinely-inspired ones are)
  • CH XII.23: “There is but one religion of god, and that is not to be evil.”

If you want to use the Hermetica to grow as an ethical person then the references to the seven planetary energies from CH I or the twelve irrational tormentors of matter from CH XIII (which can be considered to be the same) can be a great foundation for your progression into moral and ethical behavior. Here is a good article about them.

In the end, it all boils down to being reverent, considerate, and mindful, because all this is what leads to the Good, and thus to God. Everything else flows from that.

Lack of teachers

One of the big disadvantages of the Hermetica is the lack of real-life hermetic teachers. We have the texts and through them Hermes Trismegistus functions as the mythical teacher of this tradition.

Historically, the texts are the writings of many different separate authors, and therefore followers of the Way of Hermes have multiple guides teaching them, but they have all passed on and therefore cannot give practical guidance.

Given the lack of teachers or initiators, it is recommended to find people with which you can discuss and clarify the hermetic texts so that you can make progress both collectively and on your own. When you get stuck understanding certain parts of a hermetic text, you can ask them for clarification.

The answer of a real person with a little bit more experience and/or knowledge can make you understand what you could not understand on your own so that you become unstuck and can continue making progress.

A text is static and can never do this. That is why it is being said that a real teacher or helpful friend is so important because learning will not only go much quicker but it also prevents somebody from coming to the wrong conclusions thereby sabotaging any progress they have made.

Double-edged sword

Hermeticism’s inherent flexibility and freedom of exploration can be seen as a double-edged sword. It requires individuals to take personal responsibility for their progress, seek guidance where available, and actively engage in self-reflection and experimentation.

By incorporating elements of systematic progress and symbolic tests, and finding knowledgeable people, you can establish a sense of structure, growth, and purpose within your practice.

Knowledgeable people, self-imposed challenges, and milestones can serve as powerful tools for personal transformation, allowing you to deepen your understanding of Hermeticism and advance on your chosen path.

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